Volcanoes national park (PARC national des volcans) lies in the northwestern part of Rwanda and borders Virunga national park in Congo DR, and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda. The park is a haven for the rare and endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. Its a home to five of the eight Virunga volcano mountains; karisimbi, bisoke, muhabura,gahinga and sabyinyo. It spans 160km² covered in rainforest and bamboo. The park was the base for the famous zoologist Dian Fossey.
The park was first gazetted in 1925 as a small area bounded by karisimbi,bisoke and mikeno intended to protect the gorillas from poachers and it was the very first national park to be created in Africa. In 1929 the borders of the park were extended further into Rwanda and into the Belgian Congo to form the Albert national park a huge area of 8090km² run by Belgian colonial authorities who were in charge of both colonies.
Dubbed the land of a thousand hills,Rwanda is blessed to be one of the only three countries that provide a suitable home to the mountain gorillas conserved in volcanoes national park, the other countries being Congo and Uganda
This is a process of following the gorilla trail hiking to an altitude of about 2500m to 4500m above sea level through an extensive bamboo forest and after encountering gorillas spend one hour with them.
Before any gorilla trekking can start,the gorilla families have to undergo an gorilla habituation process by park rangers to get them familiar to human presence for a period between 2 – 3 years
Volcanoes national park offers daily gorilla trekking visits and a total of 8 trekkers are allowed to trek a single family of gorillas spending one hour with them. You need to be 15yrs and above to be able to purchase a gorilla permit at 1500$ per person per trekking
Volcanoes national park has a total of 11 habituated gorilla families. 10 are open for trekking and one for research. They include the following
Habituated gorilla families in volcanoes national park
1. Amahoro Gorilla Family
Volcanoes national park most peaceful gorilla family with 18 member led by a silverback ubumwe. The name amahoro originates from a kinyarwanda word meaning Peace/calmness. This family is indeed known for its peacefulness and friendliness. This behavior though has led it to lose some of its members to another group called umubano. Trekking this family is tasking since one has to hike the step mount bisoke where the group leaves. However the experience is worth undertaking
2. Umubano Gorilla Family
The name of the family group means living together. This family split from the amahoro group because of constant battles between Charles and ubumwe the the head sliver backs in the group. Charles broke away with 13 members forming the umubano family
3. Susa A Gorilla Family (twin family)
Susa A gorilla family was previously part of the Susa family that had 42 members before the split in 2008 and was the most popular group,the split left the family with 33 members with two silverbacks. This gorilla family lives in the lower slopes of mount karisimbi. If you are not good at hiking you can opt for this group. Its popular for its playful twins byishimo and impano. This was the group that was thoroughly studied by Dian Fossey during her time in Rwanda from 1967 – 1985. After. You can take a visit to Dian Fossey tomb to pay respect to the primatologist who lost her life in the process of conserving gorillas
4. Susa B (karisimbi) gorilla family
This is part of the gorillas that split from the Susa family. The group has 16 members including 2 silverbacks. It inhabits the slopes if mount karisimbi at an altitude of 4507m offering a big challenge for those who track this group. It is suitable for tourists who prefer a serious hiking experience
5. Sabyinyo gorilla family
This gorilla family is famous for its giant silverback know as Guhonda weighing about 220kg. Its the nearest and easiest gorilla family to track. It inhabits the gentle slopes between mt. Sabyinyo and mt. Gahinga. This group had 13 members including one sliver back after another was exiled from the group
6. Kwitonda gorilla family
This family migrated from the Democratic republic of Congo since virunga national park is within the virunga massif that that is trans boundary with the virunga national park in Congo and mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda. Its named after its dominant sliver back kwitonda meaning ‘humble one’. This group has 23 members and lives in the lower slopes of mt. Muhabura and its movement is unpredictable
7. Ugenda gorilla family
Uganda is a kinyarwanda word that means on the move or mobile. It has 11 members with two silverbacks. The group got its name because of its random movement behavior which makes it one if the difficult group to track.
8. Bwenge gorilla family
This family has 11 members led by a silverback bwenge. The group was formed in 2007 when silverback bwenge left his group and was later joined by females from other groups of karisoke volcano between karisimbi and bisoke mountains. Bwenge is a kinyarwanda word meaning wisdom. Its no wonder that this gorilla group featured in the movie “gorillas in the mist”
9. Agashya gorilla family
This group is named after the initial family number that was 13 at the time of habituation. The group was initially led by a silverback nyakarima but was later deposed by agashya whose name means news. The family has 27 members
10. Hirwa gorilla family
This gorilla family has 16 members. Its name originates from it’s formation process which was out of luck. It therefore means the lucky one. This family was formed in 2006 by some members if sabyinyo group and others from agashya. It inhabits the foothills of mount sabyinyo to the side of mt. Gahinga
11. Titus gorilla family
The family us named after the silverback Titus which was born during the days of Dian Fossey’s research at karisoke. Titus the young gorilla lost his family to poachers including his father, uncle, brother, mother and sister. He was later raised by another family and is considered one of the successful gorilla history. This group is a research group but open to tourists when other groups are full.
If you haven’t included these exciting groups on your bucketlist then this is the time,from the peaceful one,to the lucky one and then the humble one. The choice is yours to make